A group of parents at École Margaret Jenkins elementary are upset at plans to pave over part of a former grassy playspace to add parking for additional school staff, and those working at a dedicated child care facility on site.
The parking lot, construction on which is scheduled to happen over spring break, is part of a design to integrate four portable classrooms into the mix at the school. Two of the buildings were installed last summer to cover off the smaller-class-size decision won by B.C. teachers. Two more joint-use portables were later placed nearby, to be shared with the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association, which plans to locate its out of school child care services there.
One of the group of parents, Carolyn Wick, said losing the green space is her primary concern. She added that a lack of direct consultation with parents on whether a parking lot is the best use of the land has people just as upset.
“I think more would have been said had the parents [understood the extent of the plans],” she said.
In a letter sent this week to fellow parents, the group outlined the situation and stated it was requesting that a hold be placed on the construction work to allow for more engagement with stakeholders.
An online petition asking “Should our school field be converted to a Parking Lot?” had drawn more than 100 signatures as of Tuesday.
Greater Victoria School District secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh said the plans for the portables were laid out last spring at a school meeting. While the parking lot was not included in that plan, he said, it was added shortly afterward.
The decision to add parking was made as a result of staffing numbers between the school and child care providers, he noted. That number totals 60, while there are currently 26 parking spots on site.
“It’s been an issue for many years,” Walsh said. “By adding 10 parking spots we’re looking to take care of some of that issue.”
As the land in question is owned by the City of Victoria, some parents approached Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Jeremy Loveday about the issue. They were told a parking variance – presumably negating the need to meet the zoning requirements for spots – would likely be granted if it were applied for, but the district does not plan to do so, Walsh said.
“When we looked at the needs for the school, we saw this as an opportunity to address a pretty big problem.”
Postponing the scheduled construction at this late date would have some “pretty hefty financial implications for the district,” he added.
Margaret Jenkins is one of eight schools in the district that have or are in the process of undergoing a more modern design for their portables, referred to by SD61 as “learning studio spaces.” The plan for the school is to integrate a central hub that joins together with the portable buildings.
No plan to return the remaining green space to a play area for younger children is included, but as Wick noted, “When kids play, they move to the perimeter, into all those little nooks and crannies.”